Showing Up Is Not Enough

There's a quote that goes: "90 per cent of success is just showing up". But what about the other 10 per cent? The other 10 per cent of success largely depends on what you're showing up for.

Photo remixed from Leremy (Shutterstock).

Think of it this way: millions of people will get up tomorrow morning and show up for work. Millions will do this every day for the rest of their lives. Wake up, get in the car, sit in traffic, arrive at the office, work, leave the office, arrive at home, sleep. Repeat. It would be an insult to these people to say that they're not showing up. They do.

I'll ask again: what are they showing up for?

Recently I was talking with someone close to me. She was expressing her frustration with her job. She works long 10-hour days, is compensated poorly, and isn't recognised for the work she does. She said to me, "No matter how hard I work no one seems to care. But you seem to have this je ne sais quoi that makes you successful. It makes people pay attention."

I am not successful. Any small modicum of success I've achieved in the last couple of years is completely insignificant compared to the mountains of human achievement both heralded and unheralded that go on in this world every day. I know I'm not special. But then why isn't she getting recognized? Why doesn't she feel successful? She's certainly putting in the hours.

To answer that question, let's look at what she's putting her hours into.

At her particular job, she's working within a system. The system caps her success. No matter if she puts in the bare minimum amount of effort to keep her job, or goes above and beyond the call of duty every day, she'll probably end up with similar results. She's within a hierarchy. There's no way to jump light-years ahead even if she's good at what she does. There are just too many people above her who have every incentive to keep her down. So showing up every day and putting in the hours only results in limited success. There are no grand slams.

Now I'm certainly not advocating always working outside of a system. People have to do what they have to do to get by. Systems are a necessary part of life, and sometimes they reward hard work. But this is certainly not always the case.

If you recognise that you're working within a system where your success is artificially limited it's a good idea to use your extra time in other places. Look for places to spend time where your success is potentially unlimited.

Take writing a blog. Writing on a blog is a high upside, low downside activity. Your blog success is not capped by a hierarchy, by a system, by your boss. If you write interesting things people will read them.

The scary part about it is that it's very easy to feel like you're wasting your time. This is because if you're pursuing opportunities where your success is uncapped, you're going to have to start from scratch. There's no system, so you have to build one. Your 1000th blog post may be read by a million people, but your first one will only be read by your mum (if you're lucky).

On the flip side, if my friend writes on her company blog she is absolutely guaranteed to get a couple of thousand readers to see what she writes. But it's also unlikely that she'll get more than that couple of thousand readers. And even if she does, those couple of thousand readers will remember her company, and not her. Her manager will get credit from the executives for doing a good job, instead of her.

Blogging every day for a guaranteed thousand readers may help her gain skill. It's certainly valuable to some extent. But even if she spends hour after hour perfecting every post, it won't do very much for her because the system she's in is not set up to reward it.

Showing up is crucially important. But if you're doing that without results it's not time to throw up your hands and say "I'm not cut out for this."

If you're working hard and not being recognised it's a good idea to look at what you're working hard on.

If you're looking for something to pursue when you get home for the day, it's best to spend time on something that doesn't limit your ability to achieve.

If 90 per cent of success in life is showing up, the other 10 per cent depends on what you're showing up for.

Show up for things where your potential for achievement is commensurate with your willingness to put in effort. The rest seems to take care of itself.

Showing Up Is Not Enough [Dan Shipper]

Dan Shipper is a programmer, entrepreneur, and writer from Princeton, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @danshipper.


    So very true.

    Working in government I can understand the feeling and the need for other avenues to develop skills and achievements - hobbies and interests need to accent work and life. My 2 cents anyway

    Actually, the quote is by Woody Allen. The correct version is "80% of life is showing up".

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